Cheap medical writing outsourcing is a very real issue in the medical writing industry – but, is it a career threat for professional writers?
Being a freelance medical writer and a writing teacher, I think about what a writer is worth every day.
An obsessive bookkeeper, I find that keeping a monthly target in mind motivates me to drive my business forward.
This helps me to find new freelance clients – more so than if I don’t keep rates top of mind.
As any freelancer or solo business owner knows, we don’t pocket our hourly freelance rates.
Rates are a complex formula incorporating allowances for tax, superannuation, expenses and many other bits and pieces.
But the client doesn’t care about any of this – they only care about the dollar figure we quote.
Cheap outsourcing vs professional medical writing rates
My quotes are formulated from a combination of factors, including industry benchmarking.
Hourly rates for general writers can be anywhere from AUD$50-$250 per hour.
Medical content writers tend to be at the higher end of this scale – particularly if they are also qualified health professionals (namely doctors or PhDs).
Also, the more years of relevant health writing experience you have and the higher the quality of your previous client work, the more you can charge.
Ultimately, when you’re working out your rates, you need to be comfortable that the quality of the work you deliver is reflected in your prices.
So what happens when other writers claim that they can deliver the same quality of work as you for significantly less than your quote?
Medical writing outsourcing – the battle has begun
This is a very real scenario that many medical writers are facing with the increasing popularity of outsourcing websites like Freelancer.
These cheap outsourcing websites allow clients to find medical writers who complete projects very cheaply.
Local businesses that might ordinarily have found a local, skilled writer to complete a project can easily outsource work online at one tenth of the price we charge.
Outsourcing websites are transparent in the sense that a writer’s skill, previous work and client reviews are all available. This helps to make clients feel comfortable in a writer’s abilities – regardless of where they may be based in the world.
Don’t get me wrong. Freelancer is a hugely popular website where writers can bid on medical content projects advertised by individuals and organisations.
On the surface it sounds like a fantastic idea and, given the founder once turned down a $430 million acquisition, I’d say they’re doing okay.
But when I look at it now, I just get depressed.
I see ads like this one (I actually copied it just today):
“Write 3000-word article on anticoagulation guidelines. Must have perfect English. Must be able to design 4 creative images. A medical background is an advantage. No plagiarism. Maximum 50 pounds.”
I see individuals requesting medical writers to ghost write theses and PhD student papers – and I see writers accepting these jobs. This means these websites are playing a serious role in allowing people to gain PhD qualifications by paying writers.
But the million dollar question is this: Does the competitive outsourcing market mean we’ll all go out of business if we don’t start charging 50 pounds for one week’s work?
Good clients are willing to pay going rates. So my advice is to find these clients, and if you can’t convince the others who are just looking for the cheapest option otherwise, then you’re better off without them – because they clearly only care about saving money, and their business won’t survive in the long run with this mantra.
Good clients do exist
Good clients tend to have the mindset that cheap offshore outsourcing is good for a one-off task, or a more menial task, like data entry. But not for something that would have serious ramifications if it wasn’t done properly.
In the health industry, medical content writers operate our businesses on the proviso that we have specialty skills, experience, knowledge and understanding that comes from years of training and experience in health and medicine.
This ensures that, among other things, we are less likely to make an error which would have dire consequences, ie accidentally influence a decision a reader made about their health in a fatal way.
Clients who think the same quality of work can be sourced by writers charging cheap hourly rates and churning out projects should consider why we charge what we do.
It’s not for the hell of it – our rates are based on our skill level. Yet unfortunately, we humans are conditioned to look for the best offer, the cheapest deal.
Do cheap medical writers have the same skills as ‘expensive’ writers?
Am I saying that writers who bid for projects on Freelancer aren’t as skilled as the rest of us?
No – I’m sure some are just as skilled.
But I question why a writer would work for $10 per hour if he could charge $100 per hour.
Also, writers who charge less are often under pressure to complete projects in a hurry so they can start the next project, because churning through projects is the only way they’ll make any decent money.
Quality inevitably suffers in such circumstances.
Ethical medical writing outsourcing
There are many ethical issues that taint the practice of cheap medical writing outsourcing.
When you come across a medical writer with a five-star rating who has thirty projects on the go at once, it’s pretty clear that the writer is outsourcing his own work to who knows how many others.
I shudder to think what those poor souls are getting paid if the chief project rate is $10 per hour.
It’s a vicious cycle that clients need to take responsibility for and these fundamental issues are no different to those experienced in any other industry rife with cheap offshore labour.
That also includes the writer’s point of view, and understanding the “why” behind the cheap rate is another issue entirely.
We’re all probably losing out on some work to outsourcing websites – and we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
But I do believe that if we can continue to work on our skills and experience, care about the quality of our medical content, and find those good clients, we shouldn’t feel threatened by the outsourcing movement.